Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Trail Blazers @ Jazz: Game 51

For the second time in a week, Portland (29-21) plays arch-rival Utah (29-18), only this time down in Salt Lake City. Salt Lake has not been kind to the Trail Blazers in recent memory, as Portland is currently 1-10 in their last 11 games played in the Salt Palace. There is reason to have hope for tonight's game, as the last time Portland won in Utah, LaMarcus Aldridge did not play and role players such as Martell Webster answered the bell to the tune of 25 points. Adding to Portland's chances of pulling off a difficult road win is the fact that both Carlos Boozer and Ronnie Brewer will be inactive for the game tonight, which levels the playing field a bit more considering who is out for the Blazers.
Outside of playing a road game in Cleveland, I couldn't think of a tougher matchup tonight for the Trail Blazers. Utah is the hottest team out West, winners of nine out of their last 10, including six straight. To make matters worse, Utah has really been the only team this year to handle the Trail Blazers and do it with ease as they jumped on Portland early and turned both games into routes, carrying leads of well over 20 points in both matches. When playing in hostile environments, such as Utah, the key to staying close is to control tempo, take care of the ball, and be aggressive. Obtaining points at the foul line not only slows the momentum down, but keeps the fan base at bay, which is where Andre and Jerryd could be factors. Miller has underperformed against the Jazz this year to put it kindly, boasting mild averages of 3.5 points, 3 assists, and 0 rebounds in the two meetings to date, but his poise and veteran leadership will be much needed tonight to overcome the many Jazz runs which are inevitable to hit the Blazers.
Obviously Portland must hold Utah to less than 48 points in the paint, which is how many they gave up last Wednesday, but the real key to the game is assists. As long as Jerry Sloan has coached the Utah Jazz, that team goes as the passing goes. The entire offense is based around movement of the ball and player, ending up in open shots or lay-ups. During last week's game, Utah out assisted Portland, 27-16, proving why they are #1 in the NBA in total assists per game, 26.02 and assist differential, +6.74. Portland's best bet is to force Utah to be a one on one team for the night by fighting through screens, essentially not allowing the cutter to be open for the pass.
For Portland to walk out of the Salt Palace with a win, Aldridge will need to work Millsap in the post at will. Paul is only 6'6", giving LaMarcus at least five inches of height on him. Millsap is the wider of the two, so LMA can't be content shooting turn arounds on him and fight back for position on the blocks. Also, I believe we will see much more Batum on Williams. He won't be able to shut down Deron, but if he can force him to be a jump shooter and take away some of his passing lanes, it could halt the Utah offense a bit. Finally, the bench must show up and outshine the Utah bench. If we can get a performance out of the bench as we did on Monday vs. Charlotte, it will be a great day to be a Blazer.
With that all said, I still like Utah to continue their winning ways over Portland in Salt Lake City. The absences of Boozer and Brewer make this one much more winnable and gives me a little more hope, but the Sloan offense is a system offense and he can plug in nearly anyone and it will continue to run full charge. Give Coach Sloan and their staff credit for exploiting the interior of the Blazer defense since we have no true centers available for action. They did it last week and will continue to force the issue tonight. It should be one of those games where Utah is up about eight the entire way and Portland makes a couple pushes but never ends up with the lead.
Game 51 Prediction: Trail Blazers 93 Jazz 103
Post-Game Thoughts
Portland did nothing they were supposed to do last night in order to get a win in Utah. I didn't think the defense could get any worse than it was in Portland a week ago, but boy was I wrong. The Blazers allowed Utah to shoot a staggering 62.7% throughout the entire game as well as allowing 62 points in the paint. It was downright lazy defense, mainly played with their hands and not their feet, which gave the referees free reign to blow the whistle and Utah took advantage of and hit 29-32 from the foul line. There were numerous plays where guys would just stand and turn their heads, while a Utah player would cut to the basket for a slam dunk. It didn't look like we tried at all to disrupt their cutting lanes as there would be no resistance from the Blazer D. Utah did what they wanted to, when they wanted to, and how they wanted to all game long.
"We weren't even close to stopping these guys," said Portland coach Nate McMillan. "It was poor defense all around. We didn't control the ball, which allowed them to get into the paint and drop it in for easy baskets. We were caught ball watching and guys were just cutting in behind us.
Offensively, there really was no problem for the Trail Blazers, as they scored 105 points on 42.5% shooting and were aggressive enough to get to the line 28 times, knocking down 23 of them. It was nice to see a fire lit under LaMarcus Aldridge, as he took advantage of Andrei Kirilenko defending him. He battled down low for excellent post position and rarely settled for the turn around. The aggression paid off in the form of 15 trips to the foul line, but he still needs to work on his free throws as only 11 of them saw net. It was an impressive stat line, 27 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists. The only thing he could have improved on was his field goal shooting. 8-18 is not a bad shooting night, but in a game where our offense was the only thing keeping us in it, we needed to see him not only hit a few more down low but take more shots. Without Roy, its perfectly acceptable for LMA to put up 25 shots a night. He got paid for a reason, so let's feed him the ball.
Sometimes you just want to end the game before its over in fear of adding any more bodies to the injury list. Portland had two scares in the first half. First, Bayless went to the rack, double clutched the ball, and threw it down but landed on his left wrist. Thankfully, the X-Ray was negative and he returned, but the fall looked brutal and could have been season ending. If that wasn't enough to get your heart racing Blazer fans, then finding out Batum took himself out of the game mid-way through the 2nd quarter with shoulder pain was a punch to the gut. Arguably the most impressive and exciting Blazer this past week, Batum has been a reminder of how great this team can still be. Luckily, he returned to action in the second half, although noticeably grimacing. On the positive side of thing, the doctor did tell Nico he would experience some pain in recovering from the shoulder surgery, so hopefully it was just a normal occurrence.
"They've got five of their players out," Sloan said. "Let's be honest about it. That certainly makes a big difference in who they are. You can't do anything about injuries. I think they've got a terrific team."
Official Game Photos
Box Score

1 comment:

  1. I like our odds a little bit more with Boozer and Brewer out. I think we might *hopefully* see a big game from LaMarcus tonight. Hopefully, he gains some confidence knowing he doesn't have to contest with Boozer and brings much more aggressive play against Millsap. We need Bayless and Miller to get to that hoop and get to the line if we want to stand a fighting chance. Off nights from them would be disastrous.

    A win in Utah would be a HUGE confidence boost going into Saturday's game against the L*kers.